Ideating the future — how DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions can become the new reality

This post is the final post in the series.

Please read the following earlier posts for context:

  1. DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — can we really do it without lawyers?
  2. DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — why some people think you don’t need lawyers in a sale and purchase of property.
  3. DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — understanding the basics of a sale and purchase property.
  4. DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — sale and purchase and loan agreements.
  5. DIY legal documents for conveyancing transactions — time for a reality check.

From what we’ve discussed so far, it’s obvious that currently the ideal is very far from reality.

The conveyancing ecosystem in Malaysia means that a non-lawyer intending to complete a sale and purchase agreement without a lawyer will end up entering a maze. It’s dangerous, it’s complicated, and it’s impossible.

Ideating the future of a conveyancing transaction.
Ideating the future of a conveyancing transaction.

I’m sure that the organisers know this — that “DIY conveyancing” isn’t possible now. But the purpose of the project is to ideate solutions for the future.

What needs to change for DIY conveyancing to be possible? Hopefully CALR and others can come up with some solutions. Here are my quick thoughts before everyone gets to ideating.

Administrative and procedural improvement

I mentioned when discussing restrictions-in-interest in an earlier post about how the land office processes are totally not standardised across the different States — can they be standardised?

Some land offices are in a total mess. Can’t everything be completely computerised and accessible by any land office? Why do we still have to go to the particular State or land office to get information about land titles in that location? In this day and age there really should be no excuse.

There are many government agencies who have modernised over the past decade. The land office is long overdue for modernisation, and hopefully this will be sooner rather than later.

Standardised sale and purchase and loan documentation

Is it possible to have a standardised sale and purchase agreement template? Of course it is. This is something which should be fairly simple to accomplish.

The Bar Council has a Conveyancing Practice Committee. The 2015/2016 Committee lists 26 members. I’m assuming that these 26 lawyers are all experienced conveyancing lawyers, who should have collectively overseen thousands of sale and purchase transactions. They should be able to come up with a sale and purchase agreement template within a week.

Picture this — the Bar Council Conveyancing Practice Committee comes up with a gold-standard sale and purchase agreement template. The template should be comprehensive and fair. A seller and a buyer can then just sign a one-page document setting out the transaction-specific details (price, title details, address, some specific warranties, etc), and the document would contain a statement that the remaining terms and conditions are as per the Bar Council standard conveyancing agreement.

This would be an opt-in arrangement, and parties who still want to negotiate their own sale and purchase agreements are free to do so and do not need to use the template.

This would greatly benefit the public as it would be a gold-standard agreement and reduce the risk of transactions being stuck due to poorly-drafted agreements (of which there are very, very many out there). Bearing in mind the administrative hassles which we have discussed earlier, lawyers would still be needed to assist with the transaction, but it would take less of their time, and should therefore cost less in legal fees.

There also should not be such a wide variance in housing loan documentation. Different banks have different sets of agreements, and loan agreements can differ in length by up to 20 pages. Why is this so? These documents are non-negotiable anyway. Can Bank Negara set fair standardised terms and conditions of loan agreements — leaving a one or two page schedule for the specific commercial terms such as interest rates at the discretion of the banks?

Education and technology

There are always great things that can be done at the intersection of education and technology.

As a start, the Bar Council Conveyancing Committee should draft and publish Frequently Asked Questions about conveyancing transactions on the Bar Council website. This should include a very clear workflow of what to expect in different conveyancing scenarios.

A vision of the possible future — buying a house as simple as buying a car?

Why is the reality so far from the ideal? Can a conveyancing transaction be simplified? Of course it can, but to what extent?

Of course with the simplification of all these processes, we must also ensure that there is balance, and that the interests of sellers and buyers are protected. The land office simplification must ensure that it prevents fraud. All these requirements and processes are there for a reason, but they can be improved.

Why can’t buying a house be as simple as buying a car? Buying a car also involves a transfer of property, and taking a loan. There are administrative procedures for the transfer of ownership, including getting the appropriate release from the previous financier. Of course there are differences in the two transactions — but are they really that different?

The legal industry is one of the oldest industries, and can always be improved. Lawyers are very old-fashioned — and the Bar Council often serves as a barrier to innovation rather than an enabler.

The legal industry is ripe for disruption — let’s ideate the future.

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